Even an average performance by the Rolling Stones isn’t boring. Mick Jagger, 62 years old, still has a kinetic energy on stage and a manic ability to transform himself in rapid succession, even from lyric to lyric, from one flashy persona to another. Strutting around the stage, he acts out the roles of a revivalist minister, a horny teenage boy, a prissy 10-year-old girl, a raggedy cowboy, and a sinewy snake.
The set list in Shine a Light is fairly predictable, with “Brown Sugar,” “Jumping Jack Flash,” and “Satisfaction” all present and accounted for, though I was pleased they also included the lighthearted country/western ballad “The Girl with Faraway Eyes” (whose lyrics include “I was driving home…listening to gospel music on the colored radio station/And the preacher said, ‘You’ll always have the Lord on your side’/I was so pleased to be informed of this that I ran 20 red lights in His honor!/Thank ya Jesus, thank ya Lord!”). A few special guests appear on stage, most endearingly Jack White in a duet of “Lonely Cup” where he keeps looking over at Jagger as if he’s positively smitten to be sharing the stage with this lanky, craggy-faced legend. Meanwhile, Keith Richards looms heavy on the proceedings, eyes drifting haphazardly over the crowd, all the while smiling in blessed-out oblivion.
The standard concert footage is given an added jolt by the pedigree of director Martin Scorsese, cinematographer Robert Richardson, and a who’s-who of camera operators that, in and of themselves, comprise some of the best and brightest in cinematography (John Toll, Ellen Kuras, and Declan Quinn among them). Many of the images are indelible, catching subtle interactions between the band as well as epic gestures (Richards spits a lit cigarette into the audience in operatic slow motion, guest performer Buddy Guy sustains a drawn-out, charismatic close-up where he’s just watching the band perform, and it lingers on him for such an outrageously long time that you feel like he should change his name to Mr. Intense, and Scorsese’s jittery, fast, and angular camera movements complement Jagger’s own restlessness, where every jerk of the singer’s head is accompanied by a dynamic camera move). Richardson cascades the stage in searing white light, so the Stones seem to have wandered in from an Oliver Stone picture with backlight so hot Jagger and Richards’s dark hair seems transformed into a shining halo.
If you’re a fan of the Stones, the movie will be a pleasing representation of these rapidly aging superstars, but even so, the show runs an exhaustingly long time and there’s some undeniable vanity in the lingering close-ups, which transform Mick and Keith’s leathery skin into epic mountain crevices—especially if you catch Shine the Light on IMAX!